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‘A castle! A pirate ship!’ Volunteers build accessible playground at Whittier Center

September 15th, 2009 Posted in Arts and Life

By Brendon Butler

LOGAN — Nearly 500 volunteers showed up Tuesday at the Whittier Community Center to lend a hand on construction of a playground accessible to children with disabilities. It was the second day of a six-day building streak, which will culminate in a Saturday night grand opening, said Kendall Andelin, executive director of the Whittier Community Center and organizer of the project.

Andelin said he and the playground’s designer, Bob Leathers, visited elementary schools throughout Cache Valley to ask kids for ideas. These elementary students came up with the central structures for the half-million dollar playground; a castle and a pirate ship, Andelin said.

“We went from class to class, grade by grade,” Andelin said. “It was so cool to see the enthusiasm of these kids…30 hands would shoot up and say, ‘A castle! A pirate ship!’ I was impressed with how well (Leathers) was able to integrate the kids’ ideas into the design.”

Leathers and Associates, the New York-based architectural design firm, has built dozens of this same type of playground around the world in places such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Israel. The playground is completely wheelchair accessible, and the components are made of durable synthetic and recycled materials warrantied to last for 50 years, said Andelin.

“The university kids who helped build today will someday bring their grandkids to play on this playground. We expect it to last a long time,” Andelin said.

The most difficult part of the project has been raising the necessary funds, Andelin said. It took more than two years to complete, and the previous scheduled build-date last spring had to be postponed until fund-raising was complete. Andelin said the cost of the playground would have been three times as much without the volunteer labor and many donations of time, materials and money by local businesses. For example, area businesses donate breakfast and lunch each day for hundreds of people, and most tools have been loaned by individuals and companies, Andelin said.

“We’re building a million-dollar playground,” Andelin said.

USU students from the journalism and communication, business, landscape architecture, athletics and other departments showed up to wield tools and haul cement during several shifts throughout the day. Emma Zink, a freshman environmental studies major and Colby Pierce, a sophomore who hasn’t yet decided on a major, worked together to cement some supporting posts for a perimeter fence around the castle.

“I thought it was a cool project and wanted to be a part of it,” Zink said, patting the wet cement around the post with her shovel.

“It feels good to get out and volunteer,” Pierce said.

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